In South Africa, workers had to struggle to make their voices heard during the long years of apartheid. Even now, the global economy does not make it easy to achieve stability in the workplace. ILO TV shows how freedom of association, and the right to organize at work are the basis of good labour relations and, ultimately, a key to economic growth.

Date issued: 13 May 2001 | Size/duration: 00:02:35 (4.28 MB)
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For South Africans, freedom of assembly is a right that was recently won and is daily demonstrated.

Rina Ransaroop

We are here this morning on a work stoppage because we, as workers, have monies deducted from us from our employer that must come to the council each and every week. and those monies have not been coming out here. It’s going on for many, many years...

Sansay Parbho: factory owner

(Question off) From your point of view what is the situation, why is this happening?

(Parbho) Purely because of illegal imports, unregistered factories, there’s a whole list of things. The deregulation that’s taking place. What’s happening in the macroeconomy is finally affecting the factory floor.

(Question off) That’s interesting. You think that globalization, what is going on in international markets is affecting the textile industry?

(Parbho) finally now affecting us on the factory floor.

(Question off) Employers and workers?

(Parbho) Naturally.

Shop floor representative

Wait for us to come back.

The workers’ representative starts talks with the owners. Both sides want an end to the conflict.

Rina Ransaroop

(Question, off) How are things, here in the factory?

(Rina) Things are very very heated up at the moment and I think it’s just going to go out of proportion. We’re just waiting the outcome of the meeting that we’re going to have with our employer and the union members as well.

A standoff slowly evolves into an understanding. The owner and union representatives reach an agreement because of an open and constructive attitude on both sides. The foundation of good industrial relations has steadied the shaky ground of globalization at this factory.

As production strands reach ‘round the world connecting ever more local producers to the world market, the fabric of representational security is being frayed. Slipping through the widening gap are workers in the informal economy, particularly women.

As one of the fundamental rights and principles recognized by the world community, freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are the subject of this year’s Global Report. As part of the follow-up to the 1998 ILO Declaration, these reports will cover each year in turn, one of the four sets of core principles that all members have pledged to respect and to promote.

Director-General Juan Somavia

Freedom of association is the most important development right. We talk about the right to development of countries and this is the right to the development of individual human beings. We, as citizens, have the right to freedom of association. We have a right to organize to make our voices heard on the issues that we feel are important. And this report highlights the situation of freedom of association throughout the world.

Significant progress has been made in the last 10 years as the spread of democracy amplifies the importance of worker and employer groups. But numerous problems remain: murders of trade union organizers, physical assaults, arrests and detentions, forced exile and the repression of the right to strike.

Whole categories of workers are excluded from representation: agricultural workers have been denied the right to organize or may be cut off from legal protection. Domestic workers, for the most part women, can not organize in many countries and migrants have been banned from joining unions at all.

Export processing zones have been called the vehicles of globalization, providing the engines for growth in many developing countries.

But the job creation brought by EPZs has not always gone hand in hand with sound labour relations. No one knows this better than Jacobo Ramos, who has been trying to organize EPZ workers in the Dominican Republic.


We want to stress before the employers that trade unions are not here to destroy the enterprise but to guarantee the minimum rights for workers and to work for a better economic development of the company.”

History has underscored the irrevocable schism between freedom of association and one-party rule. Trade unionists turned leaders like Lech Walesa of Poland, Muktar Pakpahan of Indonesia, and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela embrace this fundamental right as essential to the well-being of their nations.

Nelson Mandela

Combined with issues such as the democratization of the workplace, an end to discrimination and central industrial bargaining, all these initiatives will help to improve labour relations, and therefore economic growth and development of the country.”

As workers in a global economy pick up their pace to stay competitive, respect for the right to organize becomes even more important. Employers can organize independent organizations to secure their niche in the world market. Ensuring everyone has a voice at work ensures a viable economy, democratic governance and a stable world in which to live.

DG Juan Somavia

A stable enterprise with good social dialogue and a good partnership brings stability to society. Tensions at the workplace overspill into tensions in society. Most of the big social tensions of today come from the workplace, come from working relationships. So it’s a right,, it’s a need, it’s a contribution to social stability. It’s a basic foundation of development towards the future and a basic need of human beings.